Thursday, December 29, 2016

Was she an angel? A test from the Lord? The Lord Himself in disguise?

Breaking two mirrors at once had put me in a bad mood, so I was not happy when the woman came up to my car begging for money.

Let me back up a minute and explain before I get into the heart of my story.

In addition to writing, editing and photographing The Ozarks Almanac, I have two other jobs. My main full-time job is with a big-box home improvement store about 30 miles away in the next county. In the late afternoon and evening, I cover local government for the local newspaper.

At the home improvement store, I am a combination merchandiser/housekeeper, although the title is "product service associate." The team to which I belong puts up displays, hangs signs and resets bays of merchandise. And we do a lot of sweeping, dusting, sometimes mopping, cleaning off adhesives left by price labels and painting of the shelf beams. It's a lot of manual labor, so I like it.

On this particular day, we were hanging mirrored medicine cabinets in a full bay, putting them in rows from the floor on up to about 10 feet. Late in the day, when we were nearing completion of the hanging and getting ready to start cleaning up, I came down a ladder with a medicine cabinet on my shoulder. As I stepped off the ladder, I stepped on a cabinet that I had placed on the floor on an earlier trip down the ladder. I broke that mirror and started to fall, dropping the cabinet that I was carrying, breaking it. if I were superstitious, I would have been scared to death.

I am not superstitious, but I was angry--mostly at myself for being so clumsy.

I cleaned up my own mess of broken mirrors, and we finished up, cleaned up all the other leftovers and went home.

Driving home I stewed about breaking merchandise. I decided to stop at the Kroger and get a can of peanuts for comfort before going to the newspaper office, which I did.

As I got into my car, I heard a woman saying, "Sir, sir, sir!"

"What?" I said, obviously irritated at the woman coming up to my car.

By now, I was seated behind the wheel with my hand on the door to close it.

"My little baby needs diapers, and I don't have any money. Can you help me?" she pleaded.

Now, I have a real distrust of beggars. Our town of only 20,000 has a bad problem of meth and heroin, so we have some thievery and scamming going on. Begging is a favorite way of scamming. i don't give money to people. I have bought a breakfast for a guy claiming to be hitchhiking through, and I bought groceries for a guy who said he and his wife were traveling and had spent their money on a hotel room. But I don't give out cash.

"You'll just spend it on drugs," I told the woman. "So, no."

She said, "No, I will buy diapers for my little boy. He needs them."

"I don't believe you," I said. "And I don't have much cash anyway."

"OK," she said. "Well, you keep what you have. Thank you anyway." And she started to walk away.

I guess I was feeling a little bit guilty, so I said, "Here, take this." I grabbed all the change I had in my consule cupholder. There was a handful, but it wasn't much.

"No, you keep it," the woman said.

"NO," I said, lifting my voice. "You take it. This is all I have left in cash." And it really was, for I had paid for the peanuts with my debit card.

She reached out and took the money, and then walked away. I closed my door, and drove off. I wasn't out of the parking lot, and I was already talking to Jesus.

"Oh, Lord, I guess I failed you again," I said. "There was a woman who might have truly been in need, and I didn't help her. Not only that, I was short-tempered with her. She might have been an angel that You sent to test me. I go to church on Sunday and thank you for saving me from my sins and ask you to help me follow You better, and here you give me a chance to actually do something for someone who might truly be in need, and I respond like that. I am ashamed."

When I got to the newsroom, I told my three colleagues what had happened. I admitted I was wrong. My Catholic buddy said, "You should have gone in and bought her a box of diapers if you didn't want to give her money."

"I know, I know. You don't have to tell me," I said. It is irritating for a Baptist to be corrected by a Catholic.

That night I prayed again for forgiveness, and I prayed for another chance to help someone. In fact, I prayed for a chance to help that same woman.

For weeks, I kept an eye out for her. One night, my wife asked me to stop at Kroger to get something, and that's when the guy who was traveling with his wife stopped me at the door on the way in and asked for help. He asked for money to buy some bologna and bread. I told him to go in and get what he needed for supper and meet me at the cash register so I could pay for it.

He did as he said. He got bologna and bread. I had told him to get some chips and cheese if he wanted. He had done that, and he had a package of cookies. "Do you mind if I get these for my wife?" he said. "If you do, I'll put them back."

"No, go ahead and get them for her," I said, and paid for his stuff.

I thanked the Lord for an opportunity to help someone, and I thanked Him for giving me the sense to help someone without complaining. I asked Him to let me help that woman again, if it were His will.

More weeks passed, and I backslid in my attitude. I wasn't looking to help anyone, and I had forgot about the woman at Kroger.

I was filling up with gasoline at the MotoMart across the street from Walgreens, when I heard a woman on the other side of the pumps talking to another motorist.

"Can you help me buy my little boy some medicine?" I heard her ask. And then I heard her say, "OK, thank you anyway."

Then she came over to my side of the pumps, and said, "Sir, sir, could you help me? I need to buy my little boy some medicine. He has a prescription waiting at Walgreens, but I don't have enough money to pay for it."

You're not going to believe this, but I recognized it as the same woman. And you're not going to believe this either, but after weeks of praying for an opportunity to help that same woman, my thoughts were this, "Well, good grief, I was right all along. She's just a scammer, after all. She's begging again, this time with a new approach. I don't feel so bad now."

Aloud, I said, "I'm sorry. I don't have any cash. I'm paying for this with my debit card. Don't have anything else. Sorry."

"OK, thank you anyway," she said, and walked off toward Walmart, and she was out of sight around the corner of the Motomart as I finished fueling.

I got in my car and was immediately stricken with guilt.

"I'm sorry, Lord," I said, and I drove off to catch her. By the time I got to her she was at the bottom of the hill at the corner. I pulled over, rolled down the window and said, "Listen, I don't have a lot of money in my account, and payday isn't until Friday. If it isn't too expensive, I'll go over there and pay for your boy's prescription."

She said, "It's only about $10."

"OK," I said. "If it is more than that, I won't be able to swing it. I am way down to the bottom of my bank account, and I'll still need to buy some stuff later in the week. I'll go on over there and pay for it if it's just $10."

I left her there, because I don't let women into my car with me unless my wife is with me.

She had told me the boy's name, and I told the pharmacist that I was there to pay for it, and that she would come and pick it up. The price he gave me was closer to $20 than to $10.

"Well, I guess I won't pay for it after all," I said, and I walked away from the counter.

Well, of course, I was again stricken with guilt.

"OK, Lord, you win," I said. "I'll pay for it, but You'll have to help me make ends meet later this week."

I went back to the pharmacist and said, "I'll go ahead and pay for it. The Lord has kicked me in the butt."

He laughed as I slid the debit card through the reader.

He gave me the receipt, and I said, "Now, let me make sure. Is that prescription for a baby?"

He said, "It's not for an infant, but it is for a small child."

Well, I figured that was close enough. After all, it had been several weeks, months even, since I had chewed the woman out for begging in the Kroger parking lot. The kid likely wasn't an infant.

I met the woman at the door on my way out.

"How did it go? Were you able to help?" she said.

"It's paid for and ready for you to pick up," I said.

"Oh, thank you," she said.

I  haven't seen her since..

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Mark you calendar for Aug. 21, 2017

There will be a total eclipse of the sun in Augut 2017, and according to the map that you can find on earthsky.org, we ought to be in a good position to watch it here in the heart of south central Missouri. 

According to earthsky.org:

On August 21, 2017 a total eclipse of the sun will be visible from within a narrow corridor that traverses the United States. The path of the moon’s umbral shadow begins in the northern Pacific and crosses the U.S. from west to east through parts of the following states: Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia, and South Carolina. The moon’s penumbral shadow produces a partial eclipse visible from a much larger region covering most of North America.


Here's a link from earthsky.org with more information than you can handle at one sitting: earthsky.org resources.

Monday, December 26, 2016

A dazed and confused visitor

One Saturday before Christmas, thinking back I believe it was the first Saturday of the month for I was leaving the house, I spotted him on the top step. He was a brilliant red cardinal, and he did not move when I stood looking down at him. Yes, he was alive, but he did not fly away. He just sat there.
I pulled out my cellphone and called my wife. She was just inside the house, of course, but there's a feral cat or two that wander around here, and I didn't want to take the chance of one of them finding him while I went inside to get her. She's the bird expert.
"I've got an emrgency out here," I said.
She came right out.
"What is it?" she said, a little breathlessly.
"Come and look," I said. "He won't move. I guess  he's sick."
She reached down and picked him up. As I said, she's the bird expert.
He didn't try to fly away. She caressed him.
"Maybe he just flew into the window and knocked himself out," she said. "He acts dazed."
"I've got to go," I said, for I had two photo assignments from the local paper that day, a Christmas parade in one town in the morning and in another town in the evening.
I snapped a picture of her hands holding the bird, and I left.
That was mid-morning. When I got back in the middle of the afternoon, the first thing I asked her about was the bird.
"He's all right now, I think," she said. "I hear him moving around in the box. Take him outside and see if he'll fly away."
I took him outside to our bird sanctuary, the space outside the kitchen window where we set several posts to hold bird feeders next to the bird bath. They are between the house and the hedge that separates our side yard from the lot next door. Birds love the sanctuary.
I sat the box on the ground and pulled the flaps apart. He burst out and flew up and landed in the top of the hedge and looked around before flying off.
With some time before I had to go do my evening photo shoot, I filled all the seed feeders and the suet feeders. I put fresh water in the bird bath.
Later, when they came back for the eveining feeding frenzy, I saw several cardinals, both male and female. I presume that one of the brilliant red males was our earlier visitor.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Merry Christmas

I hope you had a wonderful Christmas Day. I hope it has been a wonderful Christmas season for you.
This year has been a quiet Christmas for The Ozarks  Boy and The Ozarks Almanac. It's given me time to reflect on a few things.
One, I hear about a war on Christmas, and I suppose there is such. Just today, I read about some atheists in Texas demanding that a Nativity scene be removed from a Courthouse lawn. It's sad to think there are atheists. It's sad that there are atheists in Texas, a state I have grown to admire. It's sad that they have to try to ruin something many of the rest of us join. Why not just let things run their course? I read about a book that foresees the end to Christianity, especially white people believing in Christ, over the next eight years. Atheists should just wait eight years.
To combat the removal of the Nativity scenes in public places, I set up 11 of them in the small-town newsroom where I work part-time of an evening, covering local government meetings. They are sitting on a desk, an empty and unused desk, next to the office Christmas tree. They're quite visible, even to customers. No one complained about the Nativity scenes. The publisher made me remove my desk-size Confederate flag this year, but he hasn't done away with the birth of Christ. At least not yet.
I also have been reflecting on the actual birth of Christ. What a preposterous notion that the Creator of this vast universe became a baby so that he could live a perfect life and then die on a cross as a sacrifice to himself for our sins. I don't get it, but I don't have to get it. I only have to believe it. And I do. Because of that other holiday we observe in church, the Resurriction Sunday.
I hope you have been thinking about Jesus, the Incarnation, the Resurrection, God's love, and other wonderful ideas this day.
Merry Christmas from the world headquarters of The Ozarks Almanac.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Persimmon seeds lied to me last fall, so should I trust them this year?


Three on top are definitely knives. Five below may be spoons or ladles or large knives. Not sure which.

I've written many dumb headlines over the years, but I can't take credit for this one.
The persimmon seeds I gathered from the tree in my side yard last fall predicted a cold, wet, snowy winter. They were wrong. It turned out to be quite mild. Flooding was more of a problem than were snowdrifts or ice.

Of course, I am not complaining, but I was thinkng about skipping the folklore weather forecast this year.

I couldn't resist it, though, and a couple of weeks ago, right after the first frost, I picked up seven persimmons from beneath the tree in my yard. I picked out the seeds from those seven fruit, and I selected 12 of the thickest seeds. Seven is the number of days of creation, counting the day the Lord rested from that burden. Twelve is the number of Hebrew tribes; it is also the number of the original disciples.
I split the 12 fat seeds in half, and I was fortunate to find eight of the 24 halves legible. Eight is the number of people on the Ark, counting Noah, during the Flood, a weather-related incident.

You can see from the photo of poor quality at the top of this post that three of the halves were definitely knives. That means some cold, cutting temperatures. For back-up to that forecast, see the headline in the local newspaper that was printed a couple of weekends ago. We are definitely going to  have some cooler temperatures when winter gets here; it's right there in the paper.

I have not run across any woolly worms to see what they have to say.

The five seed halves on the second row are not clear to me. They might be spoons. They might be ladles. A couple of them might be big knives. I just don't know.

But there are no forks! Forks mean a mild winter. Once again, the seeds seem to be telling us that we are going to have a bitterly cold and wet, snowy winter. Maybe that will just be in my side yard where the tree is.

On a related note, I got this letter from reader Martha Furman Kojro, of Doolittle, Missouri, who has followed my writings about folklore weather forecaasting for many years.

Dear RD,
In the Farmers’ Almanac  daily newsletter I came across another way to predict the severity of winter.
It seems that the color of a goose’s breastbone can be used to foretell the future weather events. A red or darkly spotted bone means that winter will be cold and stormy. A light color or lightly spotted bone indicates a mild winter.
If you publish this advice I hope that there are enough geese available at our local grocery stores to meet the demand of folk scientists in the area. The few wooly worms that I’ve seen this year in my part of  Phelps county indicate a mild winter.
I  might  be cooking a goose for Sunday dinner in order to further folk science research!
Yours Truly,
Martha Furman Kojro

I told Martha that if she cooks a goose to let me know what she found. She told me later that she could not find a goose in our little town.
I guess we'll just have to rely on persimmons and the local paper.